Weakest part of the TurboTax site is its branding - over-branded to the point of logo-mania and user confusion. Is this a Quicken site? A TurboTax site? An Intuit site? Is the QuickenSTORE the place i should go to purchase TurboTax? And what about all these initiatives with their own competing logos and acronyms? The product itself -- and other Intuit products -- have been described as ``nagware'' in software reviews. Users feel it is inappropriate to have marketing and cross-promotion of other Intuit and partner products while filling out their income tax. The web site exhibits a similar level of multi-brand, multi-product confusion which may put off users as heavy-handed marketing. The ``Tax Freedom Initiative'' (or similar acronym) may be an attempt at cause related marketing -- but the cause is not evident in the name or the acronym. Companies with products facing similar branding challenges include Palm products from 3com, Norton products by Symantec, Eudora products by Qualcomm, PGP products by NAI; NetObjects and Lotus products by IBM.
If TurboTax and MacInTax are converging into a web--based service offering instead of platform specific software, it may be the right time to nuke the platform specific web site (MacInTax) and operate from a single, well-branded, well recognized online property. The ``separate-but-equal'' site for Macintosh users may now do more to alienate Macintosh users than delight them. Consider the popularity note on existing traffic below.
TurboTax can examine the product design and marketing of products in other industries that have rapidly shifted from a human (accountant) and physical transaction (paper tax forms basis) to an ebusiness in which transaction cost is the key competitive consideration -- such as investing (from brokers to etrades priced per transaction), travel (from agents and tickets to software agents and etickets) or auctions.
TurboTax (both the desktop software, and presumably the web online TurboTax 1040ez) is composed of several components:
The expert system is clever, the documentation was demanded by early customers and magazine reviewers, the eFiling is essential but no way would the IRS give them an exclusive license to conduct an eFiling monopoly, and the printable forms from a computer have been devalued by the IRS making the same information available online.
TurboTax marketing should focus on expanding their online customer base while their desktop software competition struggles to catch up. Online competitors may be waiting for January to reveal their product offerings. To grow their eFiling (transaction) business, TurboTax should be looking for additional customers by creating demand among:
Intuit and Quicken are already Alexa 1K web sites, e.g. they are among the 1,000 most-visited sites on the web. The TurboTax site creeps into the top 10,000 sites; MacInTax is far behind, not anywhere in the top 100,000.
If TurboTax and Intuit have the back-end necessary to reliably process tax transactions, and the transaction is the limiting factor for competitors, TurboTax might choose to license an API or co-branded interface to their behind-the-scenes transaction service, so that the major accounting firms (or even small ones) could offer their own online tax service -- which they would market but the transaction fee would go straight to Intuit.
When eBay goes offline for 48 hours, $3-5 Million dollars are lost. When Dell or Gateway goes offline for 24 hours, $5-6 Million dollars are lost. If TurboTax.com were to suffer an outage on April 15th (they were forced to shutdown for hours on April 12th, 1999), what would be lost (customer & partner trust, loyalty, not just revenue), and how is TurboTax prepared for the contingency? Although TurboTax fared better than Intel's Pentium flaw fiasco, TurboTax was grilled by the media for its handling of calculation errors in the TurboTax product a few years ago.